Kelli Russell Agodon - 2
Letter to My Sister Who is Still Drowning
You tell me about the ovenbird,
its orange crown traveling swamps after sunset.
You tell me it keeps an infant under its wing
and that birds sense children underwater.
The dishes have soaked overnight
and though you know it’s just your reflection
between suds, you mention Jude,
how saints appear in the waves of every body
We never talk about the summer you disappeared
into the lake, a kingfisher hovering over the shadow
of where you just were
How I watched from land, watched water
exit from your chest, your mouth
in a burst as our father tossed you to shore
Sometimes, I don’t know how to respond
when you open the refrigerator door and laugh
because you see a vision in the cantaloupe.
Someone has carved Mary into the orange center,
you say as if this world has not flooded around us,
as if everything in this life made sense.
Slow Waltz Where Your New Life Meets Your Old Habits
We lived or loved, or didn’t
mow the lawn. We waited
for dusk, for satellites, for the opening
of a book or a door. We felt the only
words were escape or escapade,
yet we couldn't decide which
to choose. We drank hot brandy
on cold ridiculous nights
and said how when pleasure
refused us we would find it
and knock it down.
We said better than never, better
let the checks roll in, better not be
an impossible mailbox sealed shut.
Maybe the thank you cards
we never wrote for our wedding gifts
that didn't matter. Maybe
they’d just be paper crockpots
stored in someone else’s home.
We lived and loved, and did it
in clover-filled grass. Maybe
the miracle didn't resist us, maybe
we just never found it,
as we slept under a moon
that kept trying to pin us down.
Helping My Parents Shop for His & Her Coffins
Mom touches a casket and yawns.
Death is a long overdue nap.
She likes the pale satin,
not the minty-green box.
She wants a home in the afterlife
that is worm-resistant
and a contraption to signal
the world if she is buried alive.
My dad tries to tell her this never happens,
but she says she once heard a story
about a grave they opened in Kent
and inside the coffin they found
scratch marks in the fabric of the lid.
She wants to be buried with a cellphone
or a string attached to a bell
placed above the ground.
My dad says people will bother the bell
and the silver could attract crows.
She says she’s tired and these coffins
remind her of Vegas
where everything is too shiny.
My parents leave with the pamphlet
for the classic pine box.
Driving home, they talk about the sky,
how it seems to roll on forever
without a hint of fog.
Fragments of A Dissected Word
Because it’s easier to rename,
to change what I can’t fix--
now depression belongs
to someone else. I mix up
the letters and say,
I’m just taking care of Red’s ponies,
instead of having to say
I’m falling apart.
And I take this word further,
say I am filled with sin or speed,
piss or need, or deep sins--
deep deep sins.
But this word--depression
—I read it inside out: persons die,
a ripened SOS.
And when it’s around, I become
a side person, posed, risen,
I am opened, sirs.
I can rearrange the letters
but I cannot arrange it
from my life.
Like playing Clue:
it was sis in the den with a rope,
I keep waiting to find out
Rose, I spend my nights awake
and all those years I didn’t tell you,
I pressed on.
My husband asks for a poem.
I have many, but none
to share. I live in a house
of irises where I am a ghost
searching for words
in my family’s mouths.
They ask me to stop
looking and learn to cook,
love them. My husband
hands me my ring and asks why
I forget to wear it.
We smile for the photograph
only because we want to be remembered
as happy. And we are
children wanting to please
the person behind the camera
and future generations
who will see us.
I try to carry my family
in letters, in my suit pocket
as I walk to the podium
to read my poems.
They are small
ghosts in the paper.
Their meal is ginger ale
and burnt toast.
Every window in my mind
faces them, and when I turn
away, they still wave to me,
ask for their voices back.
If I Ever Mistake You For a Poem
No body was ever composed
from words, not the hipsway
of verse, the iambic beat of a heart.
Yet inside you, a sestina
of arteries, the villanelle of villi,
sonnets between your shoulder blades.
If I were more obsessive I’d follow
the alliteration of age spots across
your arms. But I have exchanged
my microscope for a stethoscope
as I want to listen inside you, past
your repetition, your free verse of skin.
How easy it is to fall for your internal
organs. Your arrhythmia is charming
hidden in the ballad of body,
your gurgling stanzas, your lyric sigh.